Phylogenetic Analysis Supports Horizontal Transmission as a Driving Force of the Spread of Avian Bornaviruses

<div><p>Background</p><p>Avian bornaviruses are a genetically diverse group of viruses initially discovered in 2008. They are known to infect several avian orders. Bornaviruses of parrots and related species (Psittaciformes) are causative agents of proventricular dilatation disease, a chronic and often fatal neurologic disease widely distributed in captive psittacine populations. Although knowledge has considerably increased in the past years, many aspects of the biology of avian bornaviruses are still undiscovered. In particular, the precise way of transmission remains unknown.</p><p>Aims and Methods</p><p>In order to collect further information on the epidemiology of bornavirus infections in birds we collected samples from captive and free-ranging aquatic birds (n = 738) and Passeriformes (n = 145) in Germany and tested them for the presence of bornaviruses by PCR assays covering a broad range of known bornaviruses. We detected aquatic bird bornavirus 1 (ABBV-1) in three out of 73 sampled free-ranging mute swans (<i>Cygnus olor</i>) and one out of 282 free-ranging Eurasian oystercatchers (<i>Haematopus ostralegus</i>). Canary bornavirus 1 (CnBV-1), CnBV-2 and CnBV-3 were detected in four, six and one out of 48 captive common canaries (<i>Serinus canaria</i> forma domestica), respectively. In addition, samples originating from 49 bornavirus-positive captive Psittaciformes were used for determination of parrot bornavirus 2 (PaBV-2) and PaBV-4 sequences. Bornavirus sequences compiled during this study were used for phylogenetic analysis together with all related sequences available in GenBank.</p><p>Results of the Study</p><p>Within ABBV-1, PaBV-2 and PaBV-4, identical or genetically closely related bornavirus sequences were found in parallel in various different avian species, suggesting that inter-species transmission is frequent relative to the overall transmission of these viruses. Our results argue for an important role of horizontal transmission, but do not exclude the additional possibility of vertical transmission. Furthermore we defined clearly separated sequence clusters within several avian bornaviruses, providing a basis for an improved interpretation of transmission events within and between wild bird populations and captive bird collections.</p></div>